Containers are cool. Seriously. And you don't have to "nerd out" to say so.
Think about it: not only have containers revolutionized the cloud computing landscape, but they're also powering the future of serverless technology – which is ushering in a new era of digital transformation for modern apps.
Of course, with containers comes the complexity of orchestration. That means (utter dreaded locution): Kubernetes.
For the uncontainerized, Kubernetes is a Dutch word that means "helmsman" or "pilot" in English. And true to its translation, Kubernetes requires an experienced DevOps captain to steer the ship through the wild waters of the cloud.
Meanwhile, in the choppy seas of CMS, containers are making the course easier to navigate thanks to Contensis, a content management system owned by Zengenti. The company recently announced a new container-forward solution called “Blocks,” which is designed to help web teams build and deliver headless websites.
The Blocks, which use packages of code built as Docker containers, aim to be easier and more efficient for both developers and content teams to use.
“Not many people are tackling the combined challenges of making it really easy to develop code, connect it to your content, and then deploy it,” said Richard Chivers, CEO of Zengenti. “More often than not, enterprise-grade websites have multiple technologies co-existing, from payment gateways and search to rendering, all in different programming languages. With Blocks, we’ve made it easy to have each of these running independently in their own containers, potentially even managed by different teams, yet giving the site owner oversight and complete control to set new features live or roll-back functionality quickly without impacting the rest of the website.”
With the introduction of Blocks, users of the Contensis CMS can deploy new applications or services – without prior knowledge of Kubernetes or container orchestration. This makes it easier to push small changes or launch massive rollouts, depending on your specific needs.
“The launch of Blocks has addressed flexibility, convenience, and support head-on,” said Chivers.
Last October, CMS Critic caught up with Chivers for an interview, where he hinted at the coming release of Blocks. When news broke of its launch, CMS Critic reached out to Chivers to learn more about the new solution and what it means for the future of Contensis. He outlined some key details in an insightful Q&A below.
CMS Critic (CC): Blocks sounds like serverless, particularly around the DevOps mitigation and the autoscaling capabilities. Can you speak more about the DevOps posture? Is there AWS or Azure powering the underlying infrastructure? Or is this a proprietary cloud solution?
Richard Chivers (RC): With a simple Github action, you can push a block to the Contensis infrastructure, effectively bypassing any traditional deployment models typically associated with DevOps, meaning you can have continuous deployment and releases set-up and configured in minutes, without the need for deep DevOps expertise. Users can tailor the experience to their precise needs if required, but our typical workflows cover the 95th percentile out of the box. The underlying infrastructure for blocks is built on Kubernetes, and from a deployment perspective, our Kubernetes infrastructure is built on our proprietary cloud solution, which does include public cloud providers as required.
CC: What kinds of apps can be containerized and run as Blocks? Is this strictly for Contensis sites, or can any app be deployed and orchestrated in your cloud (without worrying about managing Kubernetes, CLIs, etc.)?
RC: Any app can be deployed and orchestrated using Blocks. You don’t need the block to use the Contensis content API. As a simple example, we have customers such as Revitive who run the order processing side of their e-commerce application inside Blocks today. This app reads and writes data to Oracle Netsuite as it happens, pulling orders at the point of sale from the Contensis API, but this could equally be any other platform or system.
CC: Who do you feel is the primary audience for this enhancement? Is this a play towards developers and Git-focused app builders? With the authoring and workflow upgrades, it seems that you’re tackling multiple targets in one announcement.
RC: It is fair to suggest that developers and Git-focused app builders are a key audience for Blocks, but we see huge benefits for all organizations and teams. Blocks allows real collaboration around deployments. Developers can focus on the delivery of new features, and product owners can release and deploy changes when it suits them, which really takes the sometimes awkward tension between developers and the business away. We see Blocks as being a perfect fit for agile teams.
CC: The rollback capability is very interesting. How does this compare to traditional blue-green deployments? Is that the underlying architecture? How simple is it to execute the change?
RC: The concepts of traditional blue-green deployments are very much at the heart of our strategy with rollback and releasing changes. We keep old Blocks running until new Blocks take over and vice-versa. The key difference is that we are putting these tools in the hands of business people with no need for any dev ops experience, rolling back is just the click of a button and is rolled out globally in seconds.
CC: At the recent CMS Kickoff 2023 conference, there were many headless platforms in attendance and several from Europe. Competition is heating up, and features are becoming more commoditized (as many vendors noted). What makes Blocks a truly competitive and transformative pivot for Contensis? What else might give you an edge in a crowded field in 2023, particularly when technology budgets are being reduced?
RC: Blocks simplifies deployment, which ultimately means fewer vendors and fewer experts to help manage, maintain, and support them, in turn, commoditizing, so to speak, the process of deploying and running websites or apps in a headless world. This ultimately allows companies to deliver their goals faster and save money. A customer can again go to a company to run their CMS and web deployments under one roof and one support contract, just like they used to in the days of the monolith CMS, but they can also benefit from all of the advantages a headless CMS brings to the table. In terms of what we are doing, our new canvas editor, due to be released over the next few months, is a completely different way of editing long-form content and something we have developed from the ground up. We think this will be pivotal in the future of Contensis and our continued drive toward the ultimate authoring experience for our users.
CMS Critic: The MACH Alliance was also at the conference, and they shared some ambitious plans and goals for this year. Does Contensis have any plans to join the best-of-breed consortium looking to elevate composable standards for the marketplace?
Chivers: This is absolutely something we would be interested in doing, we have been watching that space for some time, we have planned to open the conversation this year.
As cool as containers are, they present significant challenges from a DevOps perspective. Without a Git-focused team that understands the nature of repos and CI/CD pipelines, a container strategy isn't complete. This might sway organizations from embracing container-based tools or resources to power their apps.
According to Chivers, Contensis Blocks effectively bypasses those DevOps barriers, providing continuous deployment and releases without the need for deep DevOps expertise. As he mentions in our Q&A, Blocks covers most of the complexity out of the box, meaning that some expertise might still be required. It also sounds like there's a mix of both proprietary cloud technology running on essential public cloud services.
Contensis is clearly pushing the envelope (a kind of container, if you will). Blocks is a great expression of "cloud thinking" at its best and endeavors to streamline the use of containers to drive headless website development and deployment to the next level.
If you can't "contain" your excitement, you can learn more at https://www.contensis.com/events/webinars/introducing-blocks.
Contensis provides a single place to create, maintain and deliver your content. Its content modeling, authoring, and governance features help your teams to create and keep on top of well-structured content. A flexible set of APIs makes it easy to use your content in any way you like. Learn more at https://www.contensis.com/.